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Dermalogica Sets Strategy for Italian Rollout

In the first year, the brand will be available in 100 spas and luxury hotels, before launching flagships in Milan and Rome.

MILAN — “Go slow to go fast.”

What sounds like an oxymoron represents the strategy Unilever is applying in rolling out its Dermalogica brand in Italy.

“We need to do things right before we do more,” said Vasiliki Petrou, chief executive officer and executive vice president of Unilever Prestige, Unilever Personal Care’s premium division that also includes the Murad, REN, Kate Somerville, Living Proof and Hourglass Cosmetics brands.

In Italy, Dermalogica debuted at the end of March exclusively at the Coin Excelsior department store in Milan’s new CityLife shopping district. As its first corner in the market, a Skin Bar was installed in the beauty division of the store, introducing the complete Dermalogica experience to local customers.

“We always believe in providing superior service to consumers, especially on helping them understand the deeper [features] of their skin…So the best way to experience Dermalogica is first through the Face Mapping, which is an expert consultation with a licensed Skin-Care Therapist,” said Petrou. In particular, the therapists ask customers about their lifestyle, including diet and sleeping routine, how much water they drink or how frequently they take a plane, as “everything is connected and ultimately shows on your skin.”

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The tailor-made approach results into a customized product prescription and skin-care regimen, that can be edited and adjusted monthly by therapists, according to the development of the treatment and changing lifestyle conditions.

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The brand’s core consultation and education will be key assets for Italian customers, according to Petrou. “Italy is such a sophisticated market. Italian women want to look good, they know about looking good and looking after themselves, and I think it’s a market that appreciates education. It’s a deep market, not a superficial one,” she noted.

Available in 107 countries across the globe, Dermalogica is “also getting deeper. We’re pretty much everywhere so it’s a matter of how we go deeper now and do more quality versus just a trickle of a presence here and there.”

For said reason, the rollout in Italy will remain selective. According to Unilever Prestige’s Italian country manager Luca Sisto, in the first year the brand will be available in roughly 100 high-end spas and luxury hotels. Petrou explained such channels are fitting for the brand as they deliver high standards of experience, interaction and service.

Opening flagships is next on the agenda, as the company is scouting locations in Milan and Rome and aims to be present in 10 main Italian metropolitan areas by 2021.

Simultaneously, Dermalogica academies will be launched — also in Milan and Rome — to train new skin-care therapists locally. Currently the brand counts over 100 academies worldwide.

Digital strategies will be additionally implemented in Italy to create brand awareness and engage new customers. “We have a network of influencers working with us internationally, and we’re going to recreate this also locally. We strongly believe in the educational role they can have,” said Sisto, revealing that Dermalogica is also planning to open beauty academies targeted to influencers. “They will be invited to attend the classes for a week and learn what really lies behind a healthy skin,” he concluded.

Business-wise, online is still on the back burner, accounting for “second or third sales” for the brand’s customers. “Of course, online is here to stay, but we see it very much as a replenishment versus the first encounter with Dermalogica. We don’t believe — or at least we’re not there yet — in providing that superior expertise with online,” said Petrou, underscoring that a digital Face Map app has been implemented on the label’s web site “but it’s very in the early stages and I don’t think it replaces at all the human dialogue and interaction of somebody touching your skin, looking at your skin through a microscope and advising you.”

In general, since Unilever acquired Dermalogica in 2015, there’s been an acceleration of product launches, transitioning from an average of two new items unveiled per year to four new products hitting the market last year. According to the executive, the strategy is simply driven by innovation, as its pace “has grown up dramatically everywhere and we need to keep up and to be leading rather than playing catch-up.”

Conversely to some competitors, new products are being developed with conditions and not specific targets in mind. “Marketing with demographics is very old-fashion, it’s dead. We don’t do innovation based on demographic, we always deliver benefits to the consumers, also because now it’s all about the mindset,” said Petrou, pointing out that even Dermalogica’s line for acne is sold across a wide target as there’s a general, higher incident due to pollution and stress.

Petrou additionally spotlighted how consumers’ interest for skin care is increasing significantly, after the big wave of makeup. “People realized there’s only so much you can hide with makeup. Ultimately you need to have the right fundamentals for a healthy, glowing skin so that the good makeup glows even better.”

This didn’t stop Unilever from making its makeup debut acquiring Hourglass Cosmetics last year. Asked about a further expansion of the portfolio in 2018, Petrou kept it vague, saying that the company always looks for good opportunities but is “very picky about which brands will come with us,” as labels fitting for the job need to be “very authentic and have a natural mission to do well for the environment and society.”

“Every single company can’t be in the division if it doesn’t have a big, lofty mission. We are here to deliver bold results for society versus just sell yet another product, and I think this is what inspires people and our employees,” she said. “Everybody can sell more product, but…is it going to move the needle for this planet? What is the kind of planet we’re going to deliver to the next generation?”